Smoking success for Karen's new nyama choma restaurant


A meat platter of smoked beef, chicken and pork at Big Smoke, a restaurant in Nairobi's Karen. PHOTO | POOL

Every restaurant has a favourite seat. It is dusk as I try to get my bearing off the newly-opened Big Smoke where I quickly pick out that the majority of patrons are drawn to the outdoor chairs lining the terrace, the Nairobi’s Karen evening chill and her not-so-posh mozzies (mosquitoes) notwithstanding.

I guess the privacy the walls provide and the heat the jikos offer, as well as the chance to puff one away without irritating anyone make up for the minor chill and bite inconvenience.

The patio area has no takers on this night and those on dates prefer the sunken lounge seats.

Families opt for the practical bench format and since I am unaccompanied and here for the food, I take the high seats at the centre of what would be a saloon bar from one of the western cowboy flicks.

I face a bar stacked even higher while a familiar-looking disk jockey attempts to work for the crowd on my left. A furnace, you can hardly miss when you walk in burns to my right with the promise of a fresh meal.

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Proprietors of Big Smoke restaurant in Nairobi's Karen, Steven Gitu (Left) and Ahmed Suleiman. PHOTO | POOL

Before you get to it, however, you contend with the undoubted star of the space-the smoker well-sectioned, complete with a wrought iron gate

It is interesting watching the chefs feed her bowels with meat and hot coal so I can’t help but bother, so you won’t have to, Chef Shilla Lubia, who was kind enough to run me through, with process questions.

First up is the smoke box, that furnace, which is a bin whose fire never runs out for it has to supply the insatiable brick smoker with fuel.

The aptly named “red dragon” scorches beef, mostly brisket for an agonising 15 hours. The pork goes into the pink dragon for six hours as does chevon and mutton on the moran grill while the fowl chickens for three hours.

Now when that much time has gone into the preparation, the result is nothing short of fall-of-the-bone perfection.

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Big Smoke, a restaurant in Nairobi's Karen. PHOTO | POOL

Without prodding, I have to crown this as the best meat platter serving I have battled thus far with the best part, our economy considered, being the well-portioned serving that was value for money.

It was hard picking a winner out of the three meat choices. I tried but I reckon the pig won the mud wrestle. Craft beer pairing made the meal wholesome if I may add.

Keen on its origins and vision, BDLife caught up with its founders.

As the conversation would go, five years ago, Ahmed Suleiman invited his mate of 20 years, Steve Gitu, to run the grill at a barbecue party.

As fate would have it, everyone raved about the gifts that came from the smoker. Turns out the time spent by Mr Gitu in the family butcher business in Nairobi’s Kenyatta market was not in vain for a few individualised orders soon followed.

That is the tale of how Mr Gitu hung up his boots at the National Land Commission for the title of Pit Master and Mr Suleiman gave up a career in a marketing agency for one restaurant.

Noting the saturation of restaurants in Kilimani, they opted for the Karen suburb scouting what I deem a perfect location about a kilometre into the shopping centre.

The concept is simple really; paying homage to the Kenyan’s love for nyama choma but hygienically prepared and served in a family-oriented setting. As such, there is no television in the main mess to ensure the family atmosphere.

Worry not live music and sports lovers as your spot is the patio that seats 150 as does the main mess.

Oh! while the smoker can take a substantial 700 kilogrammes at full capacity, there are only so many hours in a day to keep up with the extensive smoking requirement.

My recommendation thus is you play the early bird for both lunch and dinner servings if you are to sample everything on the menu.

The dream, for the space that officially opens on December 10, I am told, is to begin packaging their organic sauces and hopefully to expand to more locations in the capital.

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